VCU Community Forestry Program
The Virginia Commonwealth University Community Forestry Program partners with local community organizations in and around Richmond, Virginia, to plan and implement tree planting projects, provide tree maintenance, and estimate tree benefits. Through this program, VCU engages with local communities to support and elevate urban forestry practices that provide a variety of benefits. Benefits include, but are not limited to, helping reduce or prevent the urban heat island effect, fostering a sense of community and building relationships, and highlighting the importance of sustainable practices. Continue reading to learn more.
The importance of trees and urban forests
Urban forests – a collection of trees that grow in cities or towns and may include trees along streets, in public parks and on private property – and the trees within them benefit people and the environment by:
- Providing shade on streets and buildings and helping reduce the overall heat generated by structures (e.g., sidewalks, roads and buildings)
- Mitigating urban heat islands
- Managing stormwater runoff as trees filter pollutants from stormwater and help direct stormwater that runs off non-permeable surfaces (e.g., sidewalks and roads)
- Filtering air pollution and absorbing odors
- Providing oxygen
- Establishing habitat for urban wildlife
Trees and the urban heat island effect
An urban heat island occurs when an urban area (i.e., a city) experiences significantly warmer temperatures than outlying areas (e.g., rural areas). Urban areas often experience warmer temperatures because they have a high concentration of structures like roads, sidewalks and buildings that absorb and hold heat from the sun and a low concentration of greenery (e.g., trees) that help lower surface temperatures.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, heat islands cause higher temperatures during the day, reduce cooling at night and increase air-pollution levels. They can also intensify extreme heat events (e.g., naturally occurring heat waves). As a result, heat islands can be attributed to heat-related deaths and illnesses.
The urban heat island effect is often prevalent in low-income, communities of color, and it is impacting these communities in and around Richmond. However, by establishing and maintaining green spaces (e.g., urban forests) and greenery (e.g., trees), the effects of the heat island can be reduced. Continue reading to learn why urban forests and trees are important and visit the projects page to learn about steps the VCU Community Forestry Program is taking to assist local communities in need.
Carver Tree Project
In 2018, the Virginia Commonwealth University Community Forestry Program partnered with the Carver Area Civic Improvement League (CACIL), VCU Center for Environmental Studies and the Richmond Tree Stewards to plant 62 trees in the Carver neighborhood. The program also invited VCU faculty and students to help inventory street trees and evaluate the ecosystems they provide within the neighborhood.
The project, developed in accordance with Duke University’s Urban Forestry Carbon Offset Protocol, served an essential role in supporting CACIL with making the Carver neighborhood a better place to live, work and visit, and the growing tree canopy contributes to this mission. The project serves as a pilot project for the development of a forestry carbon offset program, which helps balance out carbon emissions.
Since planting the Carver trees, the VCU program, with support from the VCU Tree Ambassadors and student service-learning volunteers, continues to maintain the trees. The program also invites volunteers to help with maintenance.
Amelia Street School Project
In February 2021, the VCU Office of Sustainability partnered with the VCU School of Business to host eight tree planting events planting over 100 trees at the Amelia Street School and Riverview Cemetary. More than 70 volunteers helped plant the trees to create an educational and recreational space for the school and the Randolph community, which has been identified as one of the hottest neighborhoods in Richmond by the Science Museum of Virginia, as well as increase Richmond's tree canopy in effect helping combat the city's heat island effect.
The project was be supported by the Amelia Street School, Enrichmond TreeLab, Richmond Parks and Recreation Department, and the VCU Department of Supply Chain Management and Analytics.
For more information about the tree planting event, check out the VCU News article titled, "Trees, redlining and urban heat: A planting project in Randolph goes beyond beautification."
Scott's Adition Tree Inventory
Over the years, the Scott’s Addition Business Association (SABA) planted so many trees in Scott’s Addition that they needed help tracking where they were located. To help, the VCU Community Forestry Program partnered with SABA, the VCU Center for Environmental Studies and the Science Museum of Virginia to inventory the trees in Scott’s Addition and prepare a report on the state of their tree canopy. This project helped analyze the benefits the trees provided and communicated to the neighborhood where current trees were planted and where future trees would be planted.
The Virginia Commonwealth University Community Forestry Program is funded by the VCU Office of Sustainability, VCU Facilities Management and a variety of grants that enable the program to carry out its goals to support urban forestry efforts in the Richmond community. To obtain grants, program staff work with community organizations to develop project concepts and pursue grant opportunities from government agencies and charitable organizations. Continue reading for a list of grants and funding that has been acquired to support the VCU Community Forestry Program.
To find out how you can help fund the program and support local community forestry efforts, email email@example.com.
VCU Division of Community Engagement and Impact - In 2017, VCU Council for Community Engagement Community-Engaged Research Partnership Development Grant provided funds to support partnership building and tree inventory activities for the Carver Tree Project.
|The 2017 Dominion Energy Environmental Stewardship Grant|
|Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay|
The VCU Community Forestry Program has received the following awards for its efforts to enhance sustainable practices in the surrounding community:
- VCU Currents of Change Award (2019) awarded by the VCU Office of the Provost, Center for Community Engagement and Impact for its exemplary integration of teaching, outreach and research.
- VCU Outstanding university-community partnership in Community Engaged Research (2019) for its efforts in engaging faculty, students and community members in collaborative, respectful and mutually beneficial research and scholarship activities.